Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Pride of America
Sailing Date: November 25th, 2006
I am an independent traveler and have been
around the world. I planned every detail for all my trips both in the U.S. and
overseas. I have been on cruises with Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Norwegian.
I did a lot of research on this cruise before my trip. The main reason I chose
this cruise was its itinerary; cruising the Hawaiian Islands in 7 days, no sea
days at all. Most of the online reviews for this ship are very bad so I was
prepared for a bad experience. Once my low expectation was set, it was easy to
exceed it. All in all, don’t be put off by the bad reviews. This cruise is a
great inexpensive way to see Hawaii in a week. I like the cruise and it sure had
pros and cons, just like everything in life.
The ship: With the 7 day all port itinerary, I planned to be on the island most of the time and didn’t care much about the ship amenities. You can see pictures of the ship online on many sites. It’s a very nice new ship and all public rooms are new and clean, somewhat plain looking on the open decks compared to other ships. The pools are small but same as other ships. Don’t expect to swim laps in them. There are bars and lounges throughout the ship so you can buy drinks everywhere. The gym has nice equipment and a flat panel TV in front of each machine so you won’t get bore while working out. We used the scale at the gym to weight ourselves to see much we gained after all the buffet and free food. There is no casino on the ship since it doesn’t leave the U.S. and it doesn’t go into international water. Hence, no passport required. There is smell of smoke only in the smoking areas like bars and open area. Also on your balcony if your neighbor smokes. In general, the port side (left side) of the ship is smoking area. So if you don’t like smoke, try to book a room on the starboard side (right side of the ship). It’s not hard to find our way around the ship since there are signs everywhere showing the map of the ship. We had to use the ship map all the time because it’s hard to tell the front or the back of the ship when onboard.
When the taxi dropped us off at the pier, there was no clear sign showing where to go to drop off the luggage. We were approached by porters and we declined the service. Then we asked a worker where to drop off the luggage, we were told to put them at the security gate 20 feet away from the porters. If you need help with the luggage, I think it make sense to use the porters. We dropped the luggage at security and were directed to the building entrance to the left, for check in. It was about 4 PM and there was no one in line. But the person at check in was very slow but very polite. After checking in, there were 2 bus loads of people that just arrived and there was short line for the check in. So it depends on when you check in to see if there is a line or not. Please keep in mind this is not a luxury ship so don’t expect a white glove reception. We did get Lei greetings onboard. And we had to find our way to the elevator that is behind the atrium. We found our way to the room following the signs.
Our rooms with balconies are on the 8th deck midship #8104, right side and on 11th deck forward #11020, right side. The 8104 room is small but efficient, clean and new. It’d be tight for 3 adults even if it can sleep 3 adults with the pull out sofa bed. There is just enough closet space for our clothes and things. We emptied our suitcases and put them under the bed. There is plenty of space for big items like suitcases under the bed. The bathroom was small as expected, just like other ships. Shower gel and shampoo are in the dispenser in the shower stall. Bring your own hair conditioner. A powerful hair dryer is in the room, attached next to the desk mirror. Our room attendant introduced himself to us and he is a very pleasant fellow from Texas. He cleaned our room everyday and we didn’t have any bad experiences with him. There is a dial outside the room to show the attendant if you want the room to be made up or you don’t want to be disturbed. We used it and it worked. The room 11020 is penthouse, it doesn’t look big but it’s twice as big as the regular room. We upgraded it from the balcony category for $700, a great deal.
We booked our cruise with Pennsylvania Travel (1-800-331-0947). We used this agency to book other trips before and we get rebates back form the agency after the trip was finished. The rebate isn’t much but it is still a discount for the trip. We booked airfare on our own because it was cheaper.
Back to the penthouse room, it had a king
size bed with a queen size sofa bed. There is curtain dividing the sitting area
from the bedroom. There is closet and makeup area with plenty of space for
cloths and suitcases. No need to store them under the bed. The bathroom is also
bigger than the regular room with shower over a tub. The toiletries are very
nice by L’Occitane. There is a center piece with real flowers on the small
coffee table, a fruit basket and some snacks, and a bottle of chilled wine in
the room upon check in. We got some chocolate covered strawberries one night.
The deck/balcony was big with a round table with 4 chairs and 2 lounge chairs.
The overall appearance of the penthouse is more luxury than the regular balcony
room. Staying in a penthouse room gets you a big room but not many special
One thing stood out, the pineapple was very sweet on the ship. Breakfast was very average at the Aloha Café (the buffet room for breakfast, lunch and dinner), not much selection, same food everyday. It was very crowded between 7-8 AM at the breakfast buffet. I think lots of people take the ship excursion and leave early. I’m not an early riser so I ate after 8 AM and it wasn’t too crowded. You can have a waited sit down breakfast or lunch in the main dinning room. But we didn’t have time for that. We came to Hawaii to see the islands, not to spend hours eating breakfast or lunch on the ship. We didn't have lunch on the ship since we were on the island driving around. Dinners were good but the food came out very slow in the main dinning rooms (Liberty and Skyline). Liberty dinning room was more luxury than Skyline but they both offered the same menu for free. There were lots of empty tables in the main dinning room but people had to wait for a long time to get seated. We saw plenty of wait staffs. I think they're short handed in the kitchen so they cook food very slowly. Wait staff forgot our order a few times. I think turn over rate is high so there are always new people working and don’t know what they’re doing. Good desserts ran out early in the evening at the main dinner rooms. Lots of people complain about the food. I think its ok, not exceptional. Keep in mind the kitchen cooks for 2000 people, meals are in mass production, not individually prepared. So they can’t be very good but they’re not bad either. Just think about the price you paid, what you paid is what you get. Food is very expensive in Hawaii. Kona coffee is $25 a pound. We paid $12 for a sub sandwich in Waikiki and we can get the similar sandwich for $4 at home. The ship’s dinner buffet was surprisingly good and we usually had some veggies at the buffet before our dinner at the main dinner rooms. Main entrées served at the main dinning rooms are also served at the buffet. There are plenty of pizzas,sausages, hamburgers, salads, fresh fruits and other stables at the buffet. So eating at the dinner buffet really didn’t miss any good food. You just missed the slow service that’s all. We had one dinner at Little Italy. It’s a specialty restaurant required reservation but it’s free. The food was very average and nothing to talk about. We didn’t try any paid restaurants but they look very nice inside. All in all, the food was good in the main dinning rooms but the service was very slow. Dinner buffet was very good and I don’t mind eating there everyday. But I was tired of the breakfast buffet after the week. There was no midnight buffet or chocolate buffet.
We didn't see any shows because it was usually after 10 PM when we were done with dinner, thanks to the slow service. We saw the comedian at the Mari Gras bar one night; he was ok, wasn’t too funny. But it was hard to work the crowd when there is a wide age group in the crowd, from teenagers to seniors. I can tell the comedian tried very hard to come up with PC jokes that are appropriate for all age and race groups and not to offend anyone.
We stopped in Maui, the Big Island, and Kauai for 2 days each. Ship excursions are very expensive. With 4 of us, it was much cheaper and more flexible to do it on our own. We rented a car and drove around the islands. We used Hertz because of their reputation and service, not because of price. In general, Alamo and Thrifty have better prices than Hertz. You can check their price on each company’s website. Hertz has shuttles to pick up customers at each port. I saw shuttles from other rental agencies such as Alamo, Thrifty, etc at each port. The staff at the Hertz offices are very slow on all islands. Guess they’re on Hawaiian time. We spent about 40 minutes to pick up our rental car at each port. But Hertz provides excellent detail maps on each island with attractions / hotels clearly listed so it was easy to find our way around the island. I don’t know what kind of maps other car rental agencies provide. If you rent a car from other companies, you can easily walk to the Hertz counter and pick up the free road map and don’t tell them you rent a car from their competitors. The map from AAA is not enough to navigate around the island because road signs are almost non-existent in Hawaii. You need to know the store, hotel or mile marker near the attraction in order to find it.
We spent 2 days in Honolulu before the cruise. Went snorkeling in Hanama Bay. Very shallow water and good for beginners. We saw fish around the rocks. The bay was beautiful with palm trees. The best beach we saw on the trip. Parking at Hanama Bay is limited. We were told not to drive there since parking is usually full by mid morning. So we took a taxi from Waikiki, cost $30. When we got there, there was plenty of parking. Guess you take the chance to find parking if you decided to drive. Entrance fee to Hanama Bay is $5 per person. You have to watch a 5 minute video before they allow you to walk down to the bay. There is no food at the bottom of the bay so pack or buy snacks and drinks before you buy the entrance ticket. We took the bus back to the hotel at Waikiki because we weren’t pressing for time. There is only one bus leaving from Hanama Bay so you can’t go wrong with it. But the bus has 2 directions, Eastbound and Westbound. You want the Westbound bus. This bus ride is long, loop around Diamond Head and Honolulu zoo. I didn’t mind since I didn’t get to visit those places and it was nice to see them from the bus. For Waikiki beach area hotels, depends on the location of the hotel, you may need transfer. When get on the bus, tell the bus driver where you’re going, and he/she will know if you need transfer or not. If yes, he/she will give you a transfer ticket and tell you where to get off the bus. Chances are most of passengers on the bus are tourists and they lived at the Waikiki beach area hotels, and get off the same stop for transfer. We stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, that’s at the beginning of the Waikiki beach so we had to take a bus transfer. We didn’t know the stop but the bus driver told us when it’s the stop to get off and told us to stay at the same stop and wait for the other Waikiki bus that stops in front of the Hilton. Don’t worry about remembering any of this. Bus drivers are very visitor friendly and help us out all the time. We asked the bus drivers every time we get on the bus to confirm we were on the right bus and get off the right stop. On every stop, there is a recorded announcement and the same message display across the front of the bus so you can hear and read about the next stop. The stops usually include hotel names in Waikiki or attractions or shopping centers so you won’t miss the stop. The bus fare is only $2, no change given back. There is even a bus that goes around the island and it takes 4 hours and it cost $2. Most of the tourists stay at the Waikiki hotels and most of the passengers are tourist when you take the Bus to and from Waikiki so you’re not really mixing with the locals. There are homeless people on the beach and on downtown streets that you don’t want to mix up with. The Bus is a great way to get around town to see major attractions and not worry about parking or finding your way. But taking the bus requires time and we usually had to wait 15-20 minutes for the bus and it stops everywhere so it takes twice as long to go anywhere. When in hurry, we took the taxi instead. For further places like the Perl Harbor, Dole Plantation and the North shore, we rented a car to see these places in one day. Perl Harbor/ Arizona Memorial is free and you either want to get there first thing in the morning before the tour groups or in the afternoon after the tour groups. If possible, go on a sunny day because you can’t see the ship under the water on a cloudy or rainy day. The Dole Plantation is ½ hour from Honolulu. It was more a visitor rip off than seeing any pineapple plantation. There is a big store selling everything with pineapple in mark up prices. The train ride through the fields is $7. The restroom is very nice in the store so it’s a nice break from driving to/from the North Shore. The Polynesian Cultural center was interesting but I didn’t think it was worth it. There are Disney like villages for every island in the south pacific but the straw huts look all alike to me. We had the Luau there and the food was not good. But the performance after was very good. It was very late after the Luau at the Polynesian Cultural center. Driving back to Waikiki in the dark through the mountains wasn’t easy. We followed the tour buses and that was much easier than find the road on our own. There are many tour buses go to the Polynesian Cultural center and all of them head back to Waikiki at night.
Where we dock is an industrial pier with oil tanks and freight ships. There are no stores or beach near the pier. There are taxis, rental car shuttles, and Hilo Hattie free shuttle waiting at the pier. Rental car shuttle picked us up and drop us at the airport agency 5 minutes away to pick up the car, very nearby. There is a Kmart near the airport, on the main shopping street. There are Macy’s and Sears and a mall along the main shopping street that you can’t miss. Went to the Iao Valley and took a dip into the stream. There are locals dive into the stream form the bridge and that was fun to see. Iao valley was pretty and It’s only 25 minutes from the pier. There is no entrance fee and parking is reasonable. It’s a very easy do it on our own excursion. After Iao valley, we had time so we drove to West Maui to the Kaanapali Beach, at Black Rock near the Sheraton hotel to snorkel. It was nice but the water was very deep, not for beginner. Same fish we saw in Ohau. The Kaanapali Beach is 4 miles long and the turn off for the black rock section is the 2nd turn off for Kaanapali Beach from the main road. There are 3 turn offs for the beach from the main road and there is no sign to tell you which turn off is for what hotels until we took the turn. So if you want to go snorkeling near at the black rock on Kaanapali Beach, take the 2nd turn and park at the shopping center parking garage. (forgot the name of the shopping center but there is only one and you can’t miss it. The shopping center post sign for no beach parking but no one asked if we were there to shop or beach. The shopping center is on the beach. We had to walk through the shopping plaza to get to the beach. Black rock is ¼ mile to the right. You can see the black rock cliff form the shopping center’s beach section. We saw people climbed up to the cliff and dive into the water.
On day 2, we drove the Hana highway and I expected to see lots of waterfalls along the way but we didn't. It must be the dry season and not much rain in Maui recently. It did rain at Maui the night before our visit so the 2 waterfalls we saw were brown, not the blue color we all had in mind. One local told us when it rain, all waterfalls are brown in Maui because of the soil wash out from the mountains. This is not mentioned in any of the guidebooks. So the beautiful beaches and waterfalls printed on all travel guides are the perfect scenes and nature is not always perfect. There are good days and rainy days and there are no blue sky or blue water in rainy days. And Maui has lots of rain. The Hana highway was narrow but not as narrow as others described. There wasn’t much traffic either. We were the only car on the road most of the time. Granted we visited at the low season. There are many turns and very annoying. We were so bored after the 26 mile marker and decided to turn around and headed back to the ship. We didn’t go all the way to Hana. Every guide book says the Hana Highway is a must do and I don’t find it a must do at all. The drive maybe more scenic during the wet season when there are waterfalls you can see along the road. We all think Maui was overrated. Maybe we didn't see the ‘real’ Maui on this trip.
The Big Island
We like the Big Island and Kauai better than Maui. In Kona, we took tender boat into pier, right in the middle of the shops. There are free shuttles for Kmart, Walmart, Hilo Hattie, and rental car shuttles at the pier. The airport is 5 miles from the pier, didn’t sound far but with the one lane busy road, it took us 20 – 25 minutes get there to pick up the car.
The most unique part of Hawaii is seeing the volcano craters on the Big Island. We drove to Hawaiian Volcano National Park from Kona via the west side. Depending on traffic, it took us over an hour to get there with no traffic. Once you enter the park, there is a crater circle to drive on and lots of easy walking trails to explore. We didn’t have much time so we stop at the main sights to take some pictures and didn’t walk on any trails. We also drove down the Chain of Craters road for ½ hour to see more craters and steams when lava entered the ocean from a distant. At the end of the Chain of Craters road, you can park and walk out to see the lava. The walk is 4 miles each way and it depends on the laver conditions. You can get details on lava flow at the park’s visitor center.
We left the volcano park and drove back to Kona via the east side Hilo to complete the circle around the island. Hilo is a poor city and you can tell from its downtown. Our ship didn’t dock at Hilo. The only good reason to dock at Hilo is it’s close to the volcano park, ½ hours away. Other than that, I don’t want to be in Hilo. But the drive along the west coast was very scenic and much better than the Hana highway.
Day 2 in Kona, we went to the Kahaluu Beach where there are lots of turtles in the water; local called it Turtle beach. It’s only 10 minutes from the Kona pier. The water was very rough and not good for snorkeling at all. We decided to drive to Kealakekua Bay, 15 minutes from Kahaluu beach. Look for the green sign for Kealakekua Bay from rt. 11. Then follow the sign and take a right down the road and take the road for 4 miles to the end and there is a small parking lot. It’s not a pretty beach but a small lot with a small rocky beach and steps to go into the water. Some kayaks for rental there too. Kealakekua Bay is best known for excellent snorkeling. There was no beach on Kealakekua Bay. You either get on a snorkeling excursion for $70 - $90 per person or kayak out to the bay. We rented a kayak at the small parking lot in Kealakekua Bay for $40 for 2 people for 2 hours and went kayaking and snorkeling for 2 hours. We had to kayak ½ mile (25 minutes) across the bay to the Captain Cook’s monument for snorkeling. The snorkeling was good and kayaking on the bay was also fun. We saw some adventures took their small children in the kayak to the Kealakekua Bay. We returned the car to Hertz and took the 4:15 pm shuttle back to the ship. The last tender for the ship is 5 pm. You need to give yourself plenty of time to return the car and the take the shuttle back to the ship because the road connects the pier and the airport is one lane can be very busy in the afternoon. The short 5 mile drive took us 40 minutes. We were on the last tender at 5. While on the tender boat, we heard the tender captain talked to the ship and said there were still 8 people not on board. Since ours was the last tender boat, we waited for 20 minutes and we left the pier at 5:30 without the 8 people. We are sure the 8 people got caught in traffic and couldn’t make it back on time. The tender ride was about 10 minutes (the captain was super slow with the boat). After we got back on the ship, it started sailing a few minutes later, very punctual. At the Kona pier, there is small beach right next to the pier that I saw people swim and kayak there if you don’t want to go far for a beach or a dip in the water.
Our last port and we all loved this island, small and we get to see most sights in one day. There are stores and a nice beach within 10 minutes walk from the pier. There are also free shuttles to Kmart, Hilo Hattie, and other shops and beach at the pier. We took the rental car shuttle to the airport in 5 minutes to pick up the car. Went to see the Waimea Canyon, the coffee visitor center/plantation on the west side and Guava plantation, some waterfalls on the east side all in one day. On day 2, we had to get back on the ship by 1:30 pm, so we took a river cruise on the Wailua river, that’s 15 minutes form the pier and it was interesting. The same river curse offered by ship excursion was $59 per person. We did it on our own and the cruise itself was only $20 per person with Smith’s. We took the first cruise at 9 AM and there is a bus tour from our ship took the same cruise. For first ½ hour, we took the little train ride through the garden to see fruit trees and plants. Then the next hour on the river cruise. This cruise used to stop at the Fern Grotto but the Fern Grotto was closed due to heavy rain damage in March. It’s still not repaired yet. So if you’re thinking about taking this excursion through the cruise for $59, it’s not worth it. We returned the car after the morning river cruise and got back on the ship at 12. Back on the pier, there was a nice beach 10 minutes walk from the ship dock so we took advantage of it and went for a dip for 1/2 hour before the ship left port. Near the ship and the beach in 10 minute walk, there are stores that you can do last minute shopping. From those stores, there are free shuttles run every 10 minutes if you don’t want to walk. Our ship left Kauai on time at 2 PM and cruise the Kauai coast. When we got to the famous Na Pali coast, it was after 5 and the sun started setting. The coast cruising was at the wrong light condition to take good pictures of the Na Pali coast. The ship is also a bit far from the coast so bring a binocular if you want to see the water falls on the mountain. The Na Pali coastal cruise was a nice ending to the trip.